“I have lots of great friends, I have a lot of lovely people around me working, and I am happy about that.”
It’s a hectic day at Trinidad Theatre Workshop on May 7th, 2015. Preparations are being made to launch a major fund-raising push in a few weeks, aimed at helping the theatre company to finally purchase the Belmont building it’s inhabited for the past eleven years, and thereby securing its future. Today photography is being done of the building and of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop’s staff. Portraits of Loren Stacy Hernandez, Marcia Seales-Rodney and Timmia Hearn have just been completed. On a chair set in the middle of the theatre’s stage, surrounded by chirping photography lights, Albert Laveau takes his position. He is the Managing and Artistic Director of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, of which he has witnessed almost its entire fifty-six-year history.
In his warm voice, Albert introduces himself and begins describing his and the Trinidad Theatre Workshop’s interwound experiences. He says it was, “1962, when I joined,” but explains that, “the activity had started about three years before I came on. […] We started at the Little Carib Theatre where Derek Walcott gathered a few faithful from the various, amateur theatre companies in Port of Spain, and started the exercise.”
When the young Albert Laveau joined, the then ‘Little Carib Theatre Workshop’ was working on ‘The Lesson’ by Eugene Ionesco Thomas. Soon after that, however, a spat between Little Carib’s Beryl McBurnie and the Theatre Workshop’s Derek Walcott lead to the group being ejected from the space, “Some little altercation took place at ‘their level’. […] I think it was some little, simple argument over the payment of a light bill or something like that. But you see these are ‘titans’; passionate people, and strong convictions, and they don’t take a step backward. Nobody tries to compromise anything. They just hold onto their position. So we got kicked out.”
Soon after, through Derek Walcott’s connections, the company moved to ‘The Basement’ at Bretton Hall on Victoria Avenue. “It was exciting! In this little, dark hole!” When one got to the bottom of the steps, he remembers, it was so dark that one needed to wait for one’s eyes to adjust. He laughs, “And there was this little, aircondition’ unit that made so much noise we had to turn it off when we were doing performances.” Well-known persons from around the Caribbean visited them, including such names as Jamaican writers; John Hearne and John Figueroa, Guyanese poet; Martin Carter, and US actor; Andre Gregory. Their time at The Basement also proved temporary, however, as another altercation; this time between Derek Walcott and the property’s owner, lead to their dismissal from this location as well.
“When you got a phone call [that went], ‘You coming to meeting this week?’ you’d have to say, ‘Where?!’ And they’d say, ‘Well, we’re trying to get a place. I will call you back and tell you…’ “
Years of wandering followed, including the Theatre Workshop residing at ‘The Zoo Pavilion’, some time at the ‘Catholic Centre’ in Coblentz, the old firestation in Port of Spain, and also various private homes. During this period, many items; costumes, props, etc, were lost in transit, but also many actors lost to depleted morale. “They couldn’t keep the people together because there was no place were we could […] do things continuously.
“When you got a phone call [that went], ‘You coming to meeting this week?’ you’d have to say, ‘Where?!’ And they’d say, ‘Well, we’re trying to get a place. I will call you back and tell you…’ That just don’t work. So that was happening, and we drifted away, we drifted away…”
Albert himself drifted away at that time, taking up a job in Africa for all of 1969. However by the end of a year he returned, explaining, “The next year we were doing Ti-Jean; ’70, in which I had the lead.” Things took off for him after that, as that production went on to be presented in New York in 1971 into 1972. Albert, along with actor; Hamilton Parris, musician; Andre Tanker, and drummer; Andrew Beddoe all went to perform the play in several boroughs of New York, therefore spending a lot of time on the road and giving Albert a taste of the hectic lifestyle of ‘the professional’. He received very good reviews. This continued when he toured across the US in 1974 with the Negro Ensemble Company, performing ‘River Niger’ four hundred times in fifty weeks!
“I think acting was part of me since I could talk! Since I was small, we used to do acting in my living room in Pointe-à-Pierre. Everyday my father would come home, and he’d say, ‘Okay, tell me a story.’ And we’d tell a story which he told us, and you’re trying your best to get it accurate and your audience booing, ‘No no no, he wrong!’ “ Albert relates his feeling that acting came naturally to him, however his childhood past-time of telling stories to his father and family maybe trained him quite a bit. “So you had to get your stuff together. Because, you know, ‘I going to tell the story this evening when daddy comes home.’ So you had to rehearse it in the evening while you doing homework. So that was ingrained in us.” Later on, when he attended school, he found he was always the one called up to speak; So much so that he just came to expect it.
Albert’s official start in acting began through a misadventure. Much later, when he left school around the age of eighteen, he learnt of a drama group in San Fernando. Initially a friend of his invited him to dance, however, “…First I was going to be dancer. Beryl McBurnie came down to San Fernando to assist Joyce Kirton to select.” He laughs, “So, she lined up the boys on one side of the room and she said, ‘Okay, you all do this step; Cross the room.’ And she crossed the room. And all the guys did the thing.” He completed his attempt, and Beryl McBurnie started selecting the boys one at a time, ” ‘Alright, you will do. You will do.’ and she turned to me and she said, ‘Not you eh, darling! You try something else!…’ “ Everyone had a good laugh, and his friend, Joyce Kirton, advised him to try something different. The next year, in 1953, a drama group called ‘The Carnegie Players’ in San Fernando was looking for talent. He applied. By the following week, consistent with his experiences all throughout his school-life, they were selecting parts for a performance, “…and I got the lead!… Why not, I always get the lead!” he chuckles.
“I always expect the unexpected. And my hands are always open. My life I leave open to welcome anything to come into me.”
Albert describes his approach to life, which has allowed him to roll with the hard times, but take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, “I always expect the unexpected. And my hands are always open. My life I leave open to welcome anything to come into me.
“The only thing that has not come into me – I’m rich, but I’m not wealthy. I have lots of great friends, I have a lot of lovely people around me working, and I am happy about that. I didn’t project my mind saying, ‘I want lovely people around me, and I want this [and] that.’ I had to be the engine of my whole life. I have to be the person that will engender all that kind of activity. And I’m… I’m not surprised when anything happens. I’m glad, I’m happy, I’m grateful.”
- Production music by Jason Shaw.
- Dates corrected.
- ‘Tejan’ corrected to ‘Ti-Jean‘, which is short for ‘Ti-Jean and His Brothers’ (a Derek Walcott play).